In response to the growing threat of ransomware, The White House announced on July 15th it was forming a ransomware task force. Designed to “coordinate a series of defensive and offensive measures against ransomware,” it is the latest in an ongoing effort by the federal government to stem the harm cyber-attacks cause to U.S. businesses and critical infrastructure.
According to The State of Ransomware 2021, a report produced by Sophos, the cost of a ransomware attack has more than doubled in the last year to almost $2 million. It is not all doom and gloom, however. Compared to 2020, this year, 15% fewer ransomware attacks have managed to encrypt data because of businesses prioritizing better cyber hygiene.
When defending your business against cyberattacks, like ransomware, the fundamentals matter.
The good news: there are five fundamental steps you can and must complete to greatly reduce your ransomware risk. Ignore these steps and it is a near guarantee a ransomware attack will eventually harm your business.
Five Steps to Cut Your Ransomware Risk by Up to 90%
1. Create a Cybersecurity Plan
Think of a cybersecurity plan like making a fire escape plan. At your home, or business, you would prepare and practice an escape route in case of a fire. You do this because once a fire ignites, it is too late and the situation is too life-threatening to start planning an exit strategy.
A cybersecurity plan works in much the same way. Once your business is hit with a cyberattack, it is too late to plan – you need to act. Every hour wasted determining what to do is an hour of lost productivity, profits, and harmed business reputation.
Regardless of the size of your business, all cybersecurity plans follow these three phases:
- Phase 1: Identify Your Risks. Catalog, analyze, and consider all the risks to your business operations. Next, rank these risks to understand those that might have the largest impact. Then, determine how to mitigate or respond to the risks should they come to fruition.
- Phase 2: Implement Security Controls. Once you have identified the most significant threats to your business, and understand how to mitigate them, you’ll want to focus on developing a defensive posture to protect against them. This is the stage in which cybersecurity product solutions come into play, as well as policies and your employees/staff.
- Phase 3: Plan as If Things Will Go Wrong. No plan is completely foolproof, so it is important to know how your organization will respond should one of the threats to your business be triggered. Risk limitation is equally as important to your bottom line as risk avoidance. If your business understands step-by-step how it should respond to the activation of each threat you have previously identified, reputational and financial damage can be significantly lowered.
In summary: to adequately protect your business, you must understand what assets require protection and what the most relevant risks or threats are to them. Once you have identified them, you can explore countermeasures and solutions to neutralize risks and threats. Finally, you should create a plan in case something goes wrong, so your business is prepared to react.
2. Protect Your Computers: Run Anti-Malware Software
For many businesses, running anti-virus software is standard practice. It protects your computers, devices, and data from virus infections and other forms of malicious software. However, cyber-threats are constantly evolving and adapting.
Moreover, ransomware is a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise and is a threat to every business. It is forcing multi-national corporations to do more to protect their critical assets.
Anti-malware software catches most viruses, malware, adware, and other unwanted or malicious software. Installing, running, and updating anti-malware software is fundamental to limiting your business’s exposure. You must run these apps on all your computers and devices. It only takes one weak link to open the floodgates.
3. Protect Your Accounts: Use Strong and Unique Passwords
It is essential that every employee of your business use strong and unique passwords for all online accounts, computers, and mobile devices.
Given the dozens of account passwords a typical user must remember, it is strongly advised you:
- Utilize a password management tool to securely keep record of your account login information. Password management tools ensure you use strong passwords you never have to remember, and they are locked securely with encryption.
- Change your passwords at least once a year. The practice of consistently refreshing your passwords can prevent any of your business accounts with login information available on the dark web from remaining viable for hackers.
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever possible. Even if your password is compromised due to a data breach, MFA will keep your account safe, particularly your most critical business accounts.
Remember, the most advanced cybersecurity system in the world could not protect your business if your passwords are weak and poorly protected.
4. Protect Your Data: Run Regular Backups
It might be a pain to regularly back up your business data, but it could mean the difference between shutting operations down for multiple days and paying a heavy ransom, versus taking one day to wipe your computers and restore your files and data.
When faced with ransomware, wiping your computers clean will destroy all but the most complex viruses. Like fumigating a home against pests, erasing hard drives clears out almost all the nooks and crannies in which a virus might hide. Once your entire network is reset, restoring your data and files stored offline will quickly have your business back in operation.
When backing up your data you should follow the 3, 2, 1 rule.
3. Create three copies of your data
2. Save your data to two different locations
1. Ensure one of the save locations is offsite, such as a cloud vendor
Following the 3, 2, 1 rule will ensure you still have access to your information if your business comes under attack.
5. Protect Your Email: Resist the Click!
Let us be clear—if you are not 100% certain of the source of a link in an email, DO NOT CLICK IT.
Reports suggest that 91% of cyber attacks begin with a phishing email. If your employees avoid clicking on attachments or links in their emails this alone will dramatically reduce the risk of being affected by ransomware.
While you should never click a link or attachment unless you are 100% certain of its source, we would suggest taking things a step further. Even if you know the sender of the email, only open attachments that you are already expecting.
If you know the email sender, it is better to first verify that they sent an unexpected link than to click it and risk significant harm to your business.
Strategies to Identify Phishing Emails:
- If an email representing a business is sent from a public domain, like gmail.com, that is typically a red flag. Even Google itself sends emails from @google.com. If an email begins with the organization name, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, that is another warning.
- If you are suspicious of an email, check for slight spelling errors in the sender’s name. Also, if there are links in the message you can hover over, check for spelling issues in the website name provided by the link.
- While there may be links provided in legitimate emails, almost no legitimate organization will send you an unsolicited attachment. If you are not expecting an email from a business and one arrives with an attachment, proceed with caution. It is most likely from a malicious attacker.
Ensure that all your employees are provided security awareness training and your business adopts a culture of email safety and you will dramatically reduce your ransomware risk – remember, resist the click.
Protect Your Business from Ransomware with Sidechain Security
Now that you know the five fundamental steps to cut your ransomware risk by up to 90%, you can begin to invest in the security of your business. Like an oil change to your vehicle, these steps are non-negotiable, but they are also DIY.
If you are one of the many people who would rather not change their oil without help, and similarly would prefer not to complete the five steps above alone, there is a solution for you. Like Jiffy Lube performing an oil change, a cybersecurity partner can help you secure your business by completing these fundamental steps for you. Sidechain’s free security assessment will verify you are completing the five steps correctly, and help you down to the path to security if you are not.
Once down the road to reducing your ransomware risk by 90%, you may wonder, is there more I can do to limit my risk and further protect my business and its data? The answer is a resounding YES, and our free security assessment will uniquely identify how your business can do so.
No matter which path you take, the most important thing to do is to get started today.